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Monday, December 06, 2010

Ground Zero Church;Turkey-Israeli ties;Iran;Russia-NATO;START;FYROM,EU bid;Poll:Presidents approval rating

The congregants of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church returned to Ground Zero Sunday to pray at the site of their former home. The small church, founded nearly a century ago, stood just south of the Twin Towers and was destroyed by their collapse on 9/11. Since then, the church’s leaders have not been able to reach an agreement with the Port Authority over where and how to rebuild, and the two sides have not spoken for nearly two years. "We gather, but without the church," Archbishop Demetrios of America told the crowd of more than 200 people who stood on the frigid construction site near Liberty Street on Sunday. "This is not going to continue this way," the archbishop said. "The need for rebuilding is urgent and immediate." As the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11, the church has become a symbol of wider importance than just a local parish, the archbishop said. He envisions the resurrected church as a place of gathering for the entire community, where residents and workers can "enter into a place of serenity," he said, "to have quiet time to rebuild themselves psychologically and spiritually." The Port Authority is currently using the church’s land without permission to build an underground parking garage for the World Trade Center. On Friday, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America threatened to sue the Port Authority to reclaim their property. During previous negotiations in 2008, the Port offered the church a larger parcel of land farther east and $20 million to rebuild, but no deal was ever signed. A Port spokesman said Friday that he was confident a new agreement could be reached. The hour-long Vespers service at the Trade Center site Sunday afternoon started with the ringing a dented brass bell that survived the destruction of the church on 9/11. Children from the congregation held other damaged items from the church, including a warped gold-plated candelabra and a tattered prayer book. In addition to St. Nicholas parishioners, the gathering included Greek Orthodox churches from around the tri-state area, representatives of the Greek consulate and local officials including City Comptroller John Liu. The Greek and English prayers honored the Feast of St. Nicholas, the church’s namesake, commemorated the victims of 9/11 and called for rebuilding the church. Members of the congregation said they were moved to be back at the church’s original site. Tamias ben-Magid, a financial editor who worked at the World Trade Center and went to St. Nicholas every Wednesday, recalled the song-filled services and the peace they brought him. "I would love to come back to pray here," said ben-Magid, a Washington Heights resident. Archbishop Demetrios said he was hopeful about the church’s future, since St. Nicholas was known as a miracle worker. "We are sure that with his intercession, the Church of St. Nicholas will be rebuilt," the archbishop said. To read more about St. Nicholas, click here and about St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at Ground Zero, click here.

Al Hura reports that Israel agreed to apologize for flotilla incident and pay reparations; Netanyahu refuses to comment on bilateral ties. A senior advisor to Turkish President Abdullah Gul confirmed on Monday that there have been contacts between Ankara and Jerusalem to rebuild ties between the two countries, reported Israel Radio. But in an interview with Israel Radio, the senior advisor refused to confirm or deny the existence of any agreements on Turkey-Israel relations. During a press conference on Monday, in response to journalists' questions, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he had nothing to say about the relationship with Turkey at this time. He said he had expressed his appreciation to the Turks for their assistance in putting out the Carmel fires, as well as his hope that the relationship with the Turks would improve. Turkish sources say that an agreement is likely to end the political crisis between Israel and Turkey. Earlier Monday, the American Arabic television network, al Hura, reported that Israel responded to most of Ankara's demands, and based on the proposed agreement, Israel said it would apologize to Turkey for the flotilla raid and pay reparations to the families of those who were killed in the incident. On Sunday, the Israeli representative on the UN flotilla probe, Yosef Ciechanover, spoke with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu in Geneva on ways to resolve the crisis. "The two met in order to find ways to promote appeasement and diminish the tension between the two countries," an Israeli official told CNN. "We regretted the deterioration of the relationship between the two countries and we of course like to see an improvement of the relations," he added.

Iran met with the U.S. and other global powers for the first time in more than a year in Geneva amid hopes for a reduction in tensions over Tehran's pursuit of nuclear technologies. The focus during more than three hours of morning meetings, according to officials, was to narrow the differences between Tehran and Western governments over the future path of their diplomacy. Iran came into the two days of talks claiming its right to produce nuclear fuel was non-negotiable. Iranian news outlets quoted Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, as saying Monday that Tehran was focused on much broader issues during the talks, including international terrorism and threats to Iran's internal security. The participants in the meetings included the U.S. and the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, Russia, France and the U.K.—plus Germany. This diplomatic bloc was led by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton. The Obama administration was represented by the State Departments No. 3 diplomat, William Burns. Mr. Jalili raised Monday morning the assassination in Tehran last week of nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, claiming the plot was hatched by Israel and Western governments, according to officials briefed on the meeting. Mrs. Ashton condemned the killing, according to two officials briefed on the exchange. She and representatives of the six delegations stressed that Iran must address the mounting international fears that Iran is seeking to produce atomic weapons, rather than civilian nuclear power, as Tehran claims. Mr. Jalili held bilateral meetings with Russian and Chinese diplomats Monday afternoon, according to IRNA. It was unclear if the Iranian negotiator would also meet his American counterpart, Mr. Burns, during the two days of talks. Coming into Monday's meeting, a number of U.S. and European diplomats said they had very low expectations. A success, they said, would be an agreement to have a second round of negotiations, possibly in Turkey or Vienna. The meetings are being held at an international conference center in Geneva. The seven delegations held morning and evening plenary sessions, with a lunch in between.

Russia does not consider NATO as a threat, but on the contrary it is building partnership relations with the alliance, President Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with Poland’s mass media. “Russia and NATO can have normal partnership and kind-hearted relations. We’ve already had good relations on the whole range of issues,” he said. “Our defence doctrine does not say that NATO is our main threat. It says that NATO’s uncontrollable expansion may create conditions for destabilising the international situation and this, you may agree, are quite different things,” Medvedev said. “As for NATO’s position, its strategic concept approved in Lisbon also says that NATO does not pose a threat to Russia and this is also the changing of paradigm of our relations,” the Russian leader said. Medvedev called for taking advantage of the favourable climate for stepping up relations. “If we feel that changes have been accumulated and there can be the abrupt improvement of these relations, we should take advantage of this not to feel shame in the 2020s for what we had done in the past,” he said.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) on Sunday said he is optimistic that the START arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia has "pretty strong bipartisan support" in the Senate and that a lame-duck vote this month will be successful. Lugar said he is optimistic that his colleagues want to vote on the treaty before the Christmas recess, after a deal is reached on extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and a continuing resolution to fund the government. Senate Republicans have threatened to block any measure in the chamber unless the tax cuts are dealt with, and several incoming GOP freshmen have demanded the chance to vote on the treaty in January, when the party will pick up six more seats. Mindful of the math, Democratic leaders are pushing for a vote this month. Lugar said he expects that will happen, if Reid can resist pressure from Democrats to bring up other issues before the treaty. "We're on the threshold," Lugar said. "I hope we will, and I think if we do, the votes are there." Reid plans to bring up the treaty for a vote before the end of the year, in the ongoing lame-duck session. Sixty-seven votes are needed to ratify the treaty in the Senate — the House does not vote on treaties — and Lugar is critical to Democrats' hopes of persuading enough Republicans to support it. The ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee is well-respected for his foreign policy experience. Led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), Democrats are portraying the treaty as necessary to ensure Russia's ongoing compliance with the old START treaty that expired last December.

FYROM foreign minister Antonio Milososki sent a letter to his Greek counterpart Dimitris Droutsas, in which he asks Athens to support the start of EU accession negotiations with his country at the upcoming EU summit in mid December. The letter was released by the FYROM by the foreign ministry in Skopje on Friday. In the letter, Milososki refers to the European Commission's recommendation for the start of accession talks with fYRoM, pointing out that this was the second consecutive year that the landlocked one-time Yugoslav republic had been judged ready to proceed to the next stage of the accession process, and five years since it had become a candidate for EU entry. "This situation is unbearable both for a candidate-country that in the next month will establish full trade ties with the EU, in the framework of the Association and Stabilisation Agreement, and for the credibility of the EU and the enlargement policy," Milososki said. The FYROM foreign minister noted that Greece can contribute decisively to reviving the European integration of the region by supporting the start of accession negotiations with his country. "With such as step we will also give a boost, together, to the necessary positive climate of mutual trust in the relations between us for a final resolution of the final bilateral difference, a viable solution that is accepted by both countries and peoples for the benefit of regional and European stability and prosperity," Milososki underlined. Similar letters were sent to the other EU foreign ministers on Saturday.

A recent Gallup Poll shows George W. Bush with a 47% approval rating, double what it was in the last year of his presidency. But he and President Nixon are still the only two former leaders to be more disliked than liked. George W. Bush is proving that absence, indeed, makes the heart grow fonder. According to a Gallup Poll released Monday, the most recent ex-president has an approval rating of 47%, about double his approval during his final year in office. In his first outing in the poll’s ranking of former chief executives, Bush is still near the bottom, handily defeating perennial basement dweller Richard Nixon, who quit office in disgrace. But he is rising with a bullet, statistically tied with Lyndon Johnson and closing in on Jimmy Carter. Bush, whose memoirs were published recently, still is in negative territory. About 51% said they disapproved of him as president, again putting him in Nixon’s company as the only two former leaders to be more disliked than liked. The poll was conducted by telephone with 1,037 adults from Nov. 19 to 21. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Respondents were asked if they approved or disapproved of the nine former presidents during the last half a century. As in previous surveys, John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated, continued to gather the highest grades, at 85%. Ranking second was Ronald Reagan, the Republican icon whose policies conservatives credit with ending the Cold War and setting a new economic agenda that has echoes in today’s battles over tax and spending reductions. Democrat Bill Clinton's popularity continues to grow as the former president becomes known for his good works around the world. Clinton, who was impeached but not convicted, grew eight percentage points in the last four years to rank third. But good works were no guarantee of success in this pool. Jimmy Carter, famously known for his charitable work in housing and voting issues, dropped from third to sixth at 52%. Johnson and George H.W. Bush, ranked fourth, also were in the same class as Clinton, gaining eight percentage points. Gerald Ford, at 61%, ranked fifth. Things may be closer than they appear in a vehicle’s side mirror, but in the cases of former presidents, looking backward is a positive move. Six of the nine presidents are now more highly regarded than they were at the end of their presidencies, including both Bushes, Kennedy, Reagan, Ford and Carter.